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Slab stele from mastaba tomb of Itjer at Giza. 4th Dynasty, 2543-2435 BC. Itjer is seated at a table with slices of bread, shown vertical by convention. Egyptian Museum, Turin

Bread was central to the formation of early human societies. From the western half of Asia, where wheat was domesticated, cultivation spread north and west, to Europe and North Africa. This in turn led to the formation of towns, as opposed to the nomadic lifestyle, and gave rise to more and more sophisticated forms of societal organization. Similar developments occurred in eastern Asia, centered on rice, and in the Americas with maize.



Conical loaves of bread as grave goods exactly as laid out in the Great Tomb, North Necropolis, Gebelein, 5th Dynasty (Old Kingdom), 2435-2305 BC. Excavations by Ernesto Schiaparelli, 1911. Egyptian Museum, Turin, S. 14051-14055

There is extensive evidence of breadmaking in Ancient Egypt in the form of artistic depictions, remains of structures and items used in bread making, and remains of the dough and bread itself.[1][2][3][4][5][6]

The most common source of leavening in antiquity was to retain a piece of dough (with sugar and water in) from the previous day to utilize as a form of sourdough starter.[7] Pliny the Elder reported that the Gauls and Iberians used the foam skimmed from beer to produce "a lighter kind of bread than other peoples." Parts of the ancient world that drank wine instead of beer used a paste composed of grape must and flour that was allowed to begin fermenting, or wheat bran steeped in wine, as a source for yeast.

The idea of a free-standing oven that could be pre-heated, with a door for access, appears to have been Greek.[8]

Even in antiquity there were a wide variety of breads. In ancient times the Greek bread was barley bread: Solon declared that wheaten bread might only be baked for feast days. By the 5th century BC bread could be purchased in Athens from a baker's shop, and in Rome, Greek bakers appeared in the 2nd century BC, as Hellenized Asia Minor was added to Roman dominion as the province of Asia;[9] the foreign bakers of bread were permitted to form a collegium. In the Deipnosophistae, the author Athenaeus (c.A.D.170 – c. 230) describes some of the bread, cakes, and pastries available in the Classical world.[10] Among the breads mentioned are griddle cakes, honey-and-oil bread, mushroom-shaped loaves covered in poppy seeds, and the military specialty of rolls baked on a spit. The type and quality of flours used to produce bread could also vary, as noted by Diphilus when he declared "bread made of wheat, as compared with that made of barley, is more nourishing, more digestible, and in every way superior." In order of merit, the bread made from refined [thoroughly sieved] flour comes first, after that bread from ordinary wheat, and then the unbolted, made of flour that has not been sifted."[11] The essentiality of bread in the diet was reflected in the name for the rest of the meal: ópson, "condiment", i.e. bread's accompaniment, whatever it might be.[12]

Middle AgesEdit

Peasants sharing bread, from the Livre du roi Modus et de la reine Ratio, France, 14th century. (Bibliothèque nationale)

In medieval Europe, bread served not only as a staple food but also as part of the table service. In the standard table setting of the day the trencher, a piece of stale bread roughly 6 inches by 4 inches (15 cm by 10 cm), was served as an absorbent plate. At the completion of a meal the trencher could then be eaten, given to the poor, or fed to the dogs. It was not until the 15th century that trenchers made of wood started to replace the bread variety.[13]

To the 19th centuryEdit

Up to the 19th century, bread in Europe was often adulterated with hazardous materials, including chalk, sawdust, alum, plaster, clay and ammonium carbonate. This gradually came to an end with government action, such as the 1860 and 1899 Food Adulteration Acts in Britain.[14] America had a more difficult time ending these processes of adulteration however, as various states had varying policies regarding bread making. [15]

In the late 19th century, the British empire encouraged a noticeable increase in import of bread from the colonies. This was regarded as British bread despite its origins, and institutes such as the Imperial Economic Committee encouraged the consumption and trade of foods such as bread from across the empire as they viewed it as cementing Britain's position in its colonies further. Advancements in refrigeration technology and techniques also encouraged an increase in the import of bread, as it could be preserved a lot longer than before and could be transported over longer distances. Bread was transported and stored using refrigeration more than most other foods, particularly in North America, as it was a staple food in most diets, more so than other staple foods like meat. [16]


The industrialization of bread-baking was a formative step in the creation of the modern world.[17] Otto Frederick Rohwedder is considered to be the father of sliced bread. In 1912 Rohwedder started work on inventing a machine that sliced bread, but bakeries were reluctant to use it since they were concerned the sliced bread would go stale. It was not until 1928, when Rohwedder invented a machine that both sliced and wrapped the bread, that sliced bread caught on. A bakery in Chillicothe, Missouri was the first to use this machine to produce sliced bread.

An automated bakery with industrial robots palletizing bread, Germany

For generations, white bread was the preferred bread of the rich while the poor ate dark (whole grain) bread. However, in most western societies, the connotations reversed in the late 20th century, with whole grain bread becoming preferred as having superior nutritional value while white bread became associated with lower-class ignorance of nutrition.[18]

A major change was the development in 1961 of the Chorleywood Bread Process. This used the intense mechanical working of dough, and control of gases touching dough, to dramatically reduce the fermentation period and the time taken to produce a loaf at the expense of taste and nutrition.[19] The process, whose high-energy mixing allows for the use of inferior grain, is now widely used around the world in large factories. In total contrast, traditional breadmaking is extremely time-consuming, as the dough is mixed with yeast and requires several cycles of kneading and resting in order to become ready for baking, and to produce the desired flavor and texture.

More recently, and especially in smaller retail bakeries, chemical additives are used that both speed up mixing time and reduce necessary fermentation time, so that a batch of bread may be mixed, made up, risen, and baked in fewer than three hours. Dough that does not require fermentation because of chemical additives is called "quick bread" by commercial bakers. Common additives include reducing agents such as L-cysteine or sodium metabisulfite, and oxidants such as potassium bromate or ascorbic acid.[20][21] Often these chemicals are added to dough in the form of a prepackaged base, which also contains most or all of the dough's non-flour ingredients. Using such bases and sophisticated chemistry, it has been possible for commercial bakers to make imitations of artisan and sourdough breads, traditionally made by semi-skilled laborers working in smaller shops. Since 1986,[22] domestic breadmakers that automate the process of making bread have become popular in the home.

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Samuel, Delwen (1989). "Chapter 12: Their staff of life: Initial investigations on ancient Egyptian bread baking". In KEMP, B. J. Amarna Reports (PDF). 5. London: Egypt Exploration Society. pp. 1253–1290. ISBN 978-0-85698-109-8. 
  2. ^ Gonzalez Carretero, Lara (9 February 2017). "3,500-year-old bread and beer from the New Kingdom, Egypt". Retrieved 17 April 2017. 
  3. ^ Samuel, D. (1994). "An archaeological study of baking and bread in New Kingdom Egypt (doctoral thesis)". 
  4. ^ Samuel, Delwen (2000). "Chapter 22: Brewing and baking". In Nicholson, P. T.; Shaw, I. Ancient Egyptian materials and technology (PDF). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. pp. 537–576. ISBN 9780521452571. 
  5. ^ Samuel, D. (1996). "Investigation of Ancient Egyptian Baking and Brewing Methods by Correlative Microscopy". Science. 273 (5274): 488–490. doi:10.1126/science.273.5274.488. 
  6. ^ Samuel, Delwen (2002). "Bread in archaeology". Civilisations (49): 27–36. doi:10.4000/civilisations.1353. 
  7. ^ Tannahill p. 68f.
  8. ^ Toussaint-Samat 2009, p.202
  9. ^ Toussaint-Samat 2009, p.204 gives a date of 168 for "a considerable influx of craftsmen bakers (pistores) of Greek origin into Rome".
  10. ^ Chrysippus of Tyana gives a list of thirty kinds, without commentary (Toussaint-Samat 2009, p. 202).
  11. ^ Tannahill p. 91
  12. ^ Changes in diet are reflected in the modern significance of opson as fish (Toussaint-Samat 2009, p. 202); in Italy the contorni are now the accompaniment to meat rather than bread.
  13. ^ Tannahill p. 227
  14. ^ "The fight against food adulteration". Retrieved 9 February 2017. 
  15. ^ MS., City Clerk's Office, Record Book, 1814-1820, pp. 3, 5.
  16. ^ The Trade Marks Journal.
  17. ^ It occupies a section in Sigfried Giedion, [1948] 1969. Mechanization Takes Command (New York Oxford University Press).
  18. ^ Christianne L.H. Hupkens, Ronald A. Knibbe and Maris J. Drop, for example analyzed social class variation in the intake of fat and fibre, including white bread consumption, in Maastricht, Liège and Aachen, "Social Class Differences in Women's Fat and Fibre Consumption: A Cross-National Study" 1995; the literature on class perceptions and diet is enormous.
  19. ^ Criticisms of the Chorleywood bread process Archived 22 May 2012 at the Wayback Machine.
  20. ^ Pyler, Ernst John (1958). Our Daily Bread. Siebel. p. 703. 
  21. ^ Elkassabany, M.; Hoseney, R.C.; Seib, P.A. (1980). "Ascorbic Acid as an Oxidant in Wheat Flour Dough. I. Conversion to Dehydroascorbic Acid" (PDF). Cereal Chem. 57 (2): 85–87. 
  22. ^ Nonaka, I. and Takeuchi, H. (1995), The Knowledge-Creating Company, Oxford University Press.